Fourteen people were arrested for impaired driving at a checkpoint in Raleigh this weekend. The checkpoint was held from 11 p.m. Friday night until 2 a.m. Saturday morning. In addition to the 14 arrests for DWI, there were also 4 driving-while-license revoked charges, 2 other traffic charges, 5 drug charges, and 2 DWI-related vehicle seizures.
Checkpoint stops involve a different analysis from other traffic stops because a police officer at a checkpoint stop is not required to have reasonable suspicion to make that stop. Generally, traffic stops are required to be supported by reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and states that
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a “traffic stop is a seizure even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.” Courts have held that a police officer must have “reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot” to make a traffic stop.
However, the North Carolina general statutes give law enforcement officers the ability to “conduct checking stations to determine compliance with the provisions” of the Motor Vehicles Chapter of the statutes. For the evidence collected to be admissible, these checking stations must comply with certain requirements. G.S. 20-16.3A provides that
(a) A law-enforcement agency may conduct checking stations to determine compliance with the provisions of this Chapter. If the agency is conducting a checking station for the purposes of determining compliance with this Chapter, it must:
(1) Repealed by Session Laws 2006-253, s. 4, effective December 1, 2006, and applicable to offenses committed on or after that date.
(2) Designate in advance the pattern both for stopping vehicles and for requesting drivers that are stopped to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information.
(2a) Operate under a written policy that provides guidelines for the pattern, which need not be in writing. The policy may be either the agency’s own policy, or if the agency does not have a written policy, it may be the policy of another law enforcement agency, and may include contingency provisions for altering either pattern if actual traffic conditions are different from those anticipated, but no individual officer may be given discretion as to which vehicle is stopped or, of the vehicles stopped, which driver is requested to produce drivers license, registration, or insurance information. If officers of a law enforcement agency are operating under another agency’s policy, it must be stated in writing.
(3) Advise the public that an authorized checking station is being operated by having, at a minimum, one law enforcement vehicle with its blue light in operation during the conducting of the checking station.
(a1) A pattern designated by a law enforcement agency pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall not be based on a particular vehicle type, except that the pattern may designate any type of commercial motor vehicle as defined in G.S. 20-4.01(3d). The provisions of this subsection shall apply to this Chapter only and are not to be construed to restrict any other type of checkpoint or roadblock which is lawful and meets the requirements of subsection (c) of this section.
(b) An officer who determines there is a reasonable suspicion that an occupant has violated a provision of this Chapter, or any other provision of law, may detain the driver to further investigate in accordance with law. The operator of any vehicle stopped at a checking station established under this subsection may be requested to submit to an alcohol screening test under G.S. 20-16.3 if during the course of the stop the officer determines the driver had previously consumed alcohol or has an open container of alcoholic beverage in the vehicle. The officer so requesting shall consider the results of any alcohol screening test or the driver’s refusal in determining if there is reasonable suspicion to investigate further.
(c) Law enforcement agencies may conduct any type of checking station or roadblock as long as it is established and operated in accordance with the provisions of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of North Carolina.
(d) The placement of checkpoints should be random or statistically indicated, and agencies shall avoid placing checkpoints repeatedly in the same location or proximity. This subsection shall not be grounds for a motion to suppress or a defense to any offense arising out of the operation of a checking station.
Even though reasonable suspicion is not required to support a checkpoint stop, an officer at a checkpoint must have reasonable suspicion if he wishes to further detain the driver after the primary purpose of the checkpoint is satisfied. The primary purpose of a checkpoint is typically satisfied after the police officer reviews the driver’s valid license and registration. This issue is addressed by North Carolina statute. Subsection (b) of the statute permits an officer who has reasonable suspicion to “detain the driver to further investigate.” The United States Supreme Court has also stated that “police officers [may] act appropriately upon information that they properly learn during a checkpoint stop justified by a lawful primary purpose, even where such action may result in the arrest of a motorist for an offense unrelated to that purpose.” (City of Indianapolis v. Edmond 2000)
North Carolina courts have also addressed this issue, and the North Carolina Court of Appeals has explained that
[o]nce the original purpose of the stop has been addressed, in order to justify further delay, there must be grounds which provide the detaining officer with additional reasonable and articulable suspicion or the encounter must have become consensual. Where no grounds for a reasonable and articulable suspicion exist and where the encounter has not become consensual, a detainee’s extended seizure is unconstitutional.
State v. Jackson (2009)
In State v. Jarrett (2009), the court of appeals held that the police officer had reasonable suspicion to support the further detention of the driver when the officer saw an aluminum can in between the driver and passenger, asked what was in the can and determined that the can contained an alcoholic beverage. An odor of alcohol or an admission of drinking alcohol earlier in the evening can also provide reasonable suspicion to the support the further detention of a driver at a checkpoint. (State v. Townsend 2014) The court of appeals has also held that an officer detecting an odor of marijuana coming from a vehicle had reasonable suspicion to further detain a driver. (State v. Smith 2013)
If you have been arrested for DWI following a checkpoint stop, visit www.rflaw.net for legal help.